Today I went to the field-that-was-a-forest to pick some blueberries. I had gone there a couple of weeks ago and picked about a pint and a half, but that’s not enough for making pie. (The recipes call for 5-6 cups). Penny came along in case I needed any sticks thrown, or grouse flushed.

Ruffed Grouse?

Ruffed Grouse?

There were at least three of them. Two flushed as soon as we walked by, and I didn’t even see them. The third flushed a few seconds later but didn’t go far. I think this one might be a juvenile, but I am not a bird expert. I’m not even sure it’s a ruffed grouse.

The berries were past their prime. Two weeks ago the bushes were loaded with them. This week I had to search diligently. I think I picked maybe a pint after an hour’s effort. Luckily, the blackberries are coming in now, and I picked a few cups of those too. Between the blueberries and the blackberries, I have enough to make a pie. There are recipes out there that use both, so I will follow one of those.

Yesterday morning I noticed that our water was a lot hotter than it normally is. I really like to take long, hot showers, so I popped in and indulged myself. I could take them all the time, but I don’t want to waste the energy keeping our water that hot, so I keep it turned it down to something more reasonable. I made a mental note to look into this extra-hot water though.

Today I noticed that the water was hardly hot at all. I went down to the basement and opened up the water heater (don’t ever call it a “hot” water heater in front of my Dad – that’s one of his pet peeves). I took a photo of the upper thermostat so I could read the number on it.

Water heater thermostat.

Water heater thermostat.

I also pressed that red button (it’s a circuit breaker), and it went “click!” so I knew that it had experienced some over-current. I figured I should replace the heating elements too, because there’s nothing else in the circuit other than heating elements and a thermostat.

After two trips to Tilton to Bryant & Lawrence Hardware (one of my favorite stores anywhere), I had the parts I needed (a lower thermostat and a heating element). To make a long story shorter… we now have “normal” hot water again.

On to another topic.

Last week Va asked me what we should do with a couple of left-over packages of candy canes. I hate to throw that kind of thing out, even though they are very inexpensive. So I told her I would find a use for them. My first stab was to Google “leftover candy canes,” which garners 130,000 hits. I didn’t read them all, but I read enough of them to know I wasn’t going to try any of those things. Valentine hearts with candy canes? Really?

David pointed out that getting 130,000 hits on that phrase was an indictment of candy canes. Outside of the Christmas season, they are just not very popular, and there’s a reason for that. They are more for decoration than for eating.
You never hear people ask what they should do with leftover “good” candy, like Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups. That’s because there’s never any of that left over.

I came up with my own idea for the candy canes. I got all my blackberries out of the freezer to try a new invention – Blackberry Candy Cane Jam. Hopefully this will go better than the chocolate soup experiment. Candy canes are little more than sugar and flavoring. You already need sugar to make jam, and I thought peppermint might make an interesting addition to the blackberry flavor.

But there was also an important thing I wanted to subtract – blackberry seeds! I had read you could use a jelly bag to filter them out, but I don’t have one of those, and I have never used one or even seen one being used. But I figured… how hard could that be? Famous last words.

Novice at work

Novice at work

I squished the blackberries through my chinois, and then bundled them into a piece of cloth, twisted the top together, and then began squeezing the juice through the cloth. It didn’t want to come out, so I upped the pressure. That’s when the pressure in the improvised jelly bag exceeded the pressure asserted by my grip on the top of the bag. A nice little spout opened up, and you can see the results.

And just so you know, blackberries do stain painted drywall.

Sigh. I cleaned that off the wall as best I could and continued my efforts. I finally got 90% of the seeds (and probably 50% of the juice and pulp) removed. Then I broke up the candy canes, added some sugar & pectin, and boiled it for… I don’t know how long. It was long enough to dissolve the candy canes.

Don't look at the trivet!

Don’t look at the trivet!

Just try to remember that I don’t really know what I’m doing. They say to boil jam until it runs off the spoon “in sheets”. I don’t think I ever got it to that stage, even after an hour of boiling. Maybe I needed more sugar. Maybe I should have measured the blackberries and the sugar (I think you need equal amounts). But it looked like it was getting close to “sheets” so I called it good enough and poured it into some jars. I got two and a half pints. I cleaned my big pot (to some extent) with a slice of bread. I can say that it tasted pretty interesting, and not at all bad.

And now I have a big mess to clean up. Turns out bread doesn’t do a great job on a big jam-covered pot.

Moon Wasp

Moon Wasp

This evening I walked the trail through my wood lot. As I emerged from the forest, I spotted a dead wasp, head-down in a white pine sapling. It looks like she was mooning someone when she expired.

There were several ripe blackberries near the mooning wasp, and I ate several handfuls before deciding to capture one that was growing near the ground:

Ripe and juicy

Ripe and juicy

Incidentally, I have a new favorite way to eat these. I put about a half cup of vanilla ice cream in a bowl and then add about a cup of blackberries. Then I cover the whole thing with some Orange Crush dessert topping (basically, a syrup). Man… that is good. I had another bowl of that tonight. My hope is that since the bulk of this is fresh blackberries, it’s basically good for me (sugar from the ice cream and syrup aside).

As I made my way through the yard to check out the catchment pond, this little pickerel frog leaped out of my path.

Pickerel Frog (Rana palustris)

Pickerel Frog (Rana palustris)

I think this is the first one of these I’ve seen this summer.
They aren’t nearly as common as American toads, green frogs, bullfrogs, wood frogs, or spring peepers. Those six species are the only frogs I’ve seen on my property.

Today I came home right after work instead of stopping at the church to work on the remodeling project. It’s really the first time I’ve had a chance to wander around the yard in the daylight since before we left on vacation on July 31. One of the first things I did was head for the neighbor’s yard to check out the fire damage.

Burn Pile

Burn Pile

I suppose it must have been pretty scary when it was happening, but it doesn’t look like the reports we had received were very accurate. For instance, it was on the other side of their property and not on our border. The fire never approached the stone wall between our place and theirs. The fire did expose a lot of trash and debris that had been covered with undergrowth, but I’m assuming that the new neighbors (who had not yet and still have not yet moved in) are going to clean the place up a bit (thus the burn pile). I sure hope they do anyhow.

While I was walking around my place, I noticed this chestnut tree.

Diseased Chestnut

Diseased Chestnut

The American Chestnut was wiped out early in the twentieth century by an introduced fungus that causes chestnut blight. We still have chestnuts here, but they don’t get taller than 20 feet or so, and the trunks never exceed three inches in diameter (like this one). These sprout up from dead chestnut stumps, grow for a few years, and then die off. I do not know for sure, but I’m guessing that the white powder on these leaves is the fungus. Nope. Chestnut blight is a fungus that attacks the bark. After having looked at several photos, I know I’ve seen bark like that on my chestnut coppices though. This leaf fungus could possibly be Sphaerotheca fuliginea though.

Woodland Sunflower

Woodland Sunflower

These are finally fully in bloom now too. It’s a Woodland Sunflower (Helianthus divaricatus). By the time I took this shot though, the sky was pretty overcast and the sun was low in the sky (i.e., low light). To compound that, it was breezy, and the flower was swaying back and forth, so the shot is not what I was hoping for. It still turned out semi-OK though.

Beth and I picked about three pints of blackberries today. I’d like to make a pie from them, but Beth wants to do something else. She doesn’t know what that something else is though – just that it’s “not pie.” I’ll probably make pie anyhow.

Today is Pi Day. March 14. 3/14. 3.14.

So to celebrate, I dug the blackberries out of the freezer. These are the wild ones I picked on my place late last summer or early fall (or both). The recipe called for 5 cups of berries, 3/4 cup of sugar, a couple tablespoons of corn starch and an eighth teaspoon of salt.

I was worried about seeds though, so I experimented. I tried straining the berries through my chinois, but that met with utter and incontrovertible failure. After grinding on two cups of berries for ten minutes, I managed to squeeze maybe six droplets of blackberries into the bowl underneath. Not what I would call very effective!

So instead, I just dumped those two crushed cups (still in the top of the chinois) plus three more cups into a large bowl, added the sugar (et al), and mixed them thoroughly. I dumped that into a pre-made crust. I didn’t have the time or patience to make a top-crust, so this pi went topless.

Popped it into the oven for an hour, and then called it done. I meant to take it to the Pathfinder meeting, but we had to leave as soon as it came out of the oven and I could not think of an effective way to transport a hot pie. So I left it on the stovetop until I got home.

Then I had a slice with a scoop if ice cream. I’d say it was a successful pie!

When I got home I took the dog out and checked in on my garden. It would be difficult to characterize this year’s effort as a success. The three sisters are a bit… sickly. I just don’t have enough sun I think.

So far I have harvested a grand total of nine green bean pods. And the beans are done now.

I have two squash that are roughly the size of my pinky, and both are growing on plants with three stunted leaves. Not a lot of hope for converting sunlight into squash there, but who knows. They might pull a rabbit outta that hat. But I sure doubt it.

The corn never got more than four feet high. All the stalks have male flowers (the tassels) and female flowers (the silks), but shortly after I planted them, I read that you need about eight times more corn than I planted for them to pollinate one another. The silks have no substance beneath them to suggest a cob, much less kernels.

Next year I may need to cut some trees down to give this patch a little more light. But I hate to cut down my (living) trees because I actually like the shade. I might cut down a small cherry though, as I don’t think it’s anything more than a coppice anyhow. Plus it’s a tent caterpillar magnet.

On the other hand, I have harvested about three quarts of blackberries on the place. I didn’t plant a one of them. I didn’t water them. I didn’t fertilize them. But there they are. I picked another double-handful of berries tonight in fact, and there were prolly double that still on the canes out front (but my hands were full).

Maybe I should stick to edible wild plants.